The United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Puerto Rico recently rejected a defendant’s arguments that a clause in a Private Purchase and Sale Agreement of Shares and Other Matters was invalid under Supreme Court case law but nevertheless agreed with the defendant’s interpretation of the clause and therefore dismissed the claim against it.
National Promoters and Services, Inc. (“NAPRO”) entered into a Private Purchase and Sale Agreement of Shares and Other Matters (“the Agreement”) with Aseguradora Ancon, S.A. (“Ancon”). Pursuant to the Agreement, Ancon bought certain shares of National Life Insurance Company (“NALIC”) from NAPRO for approximately $2.5 million.
A clause in the agreement (“Clause Four”) provided in part that $300,000 of the purchase price would be deposited in an escrow account “which shall be reserved for nine (9) months in order to guarantee those obligations not reflected in the financial statements as of September 30, 2011, caused to National Life Insurance Company (hereinafter NALIC) by the officers and/or directors of said entity.” Clause Four further provided: “After such nine (9) month period has passed, to the extent that all or part of the sum has not been consumed, the balance, if any, of the aforementioned amount of . . . $300,000 shall be returned to NAPRO.”
Ancon did not fund the escrow fund “because it determined the action unnecessary considering their financial strength and also found that there were claims, risks and unknown losses caused by NALIC that surpassed $300,000.” NAPRO subsequently sued Ancon. Ancon defended in part by claiming that Clause Four was not valid under the Supreme Court’s decision in Bangor Punta Operations, Inc. v. Bangor & A.R. Co., 417 U.S. 703 (1974). Bangor Punta was a shareholder derivative action in which the Supreme Court “held that a shareholder may not complain of acts of corporate mismanagement if it acquired its shares from those that participated in the alleged wrongful transactions.” That holding was based on equitable considerations and the fact that the buying party was trying “to recoup a large part of the price they agreed to pay for their shares” and “reap a profit from wrongs done to others.”
The United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Puerto Rico rejected Ancon’s argument and held that Bangor Punta was inapposite. “Unlike Bangor Punta, in the instant adversary proceeding, Ancon is the defendant to a recovery of monies action based upon a private stock purchase agreement regarding the sale of NALIC stock by NAPRO.” The action was based on an alleged breach of Clause Four and “there [was] no windfall for Ancon for damages sustained by other premised on a shareholder derivative action lawsuit for corporate mismanagement . . . .”
The court also concluded that Ancon’s reliance on the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico’s decision in Multinational Life Insurance Company v. Carlos Benitez Rivera; Edgardo Van Rhyn Soler, et als., 193 D.P.R. 67 (2015), which applied the Supreme Court’s decision in Bangor Punta, was inapplicable because that case was also based on a different factual scenario.
Because Clause Four was not invalid under Bangor Punta and its progeny, the court turned to interpreting that clause. Applying Puerto Rican law regarding the interpretation of contracts. the court concluded: “The reference in [Clause Four] ‘. . . to the extent that all or part of the sum has not been consumed, the balance, if any, of the aforementioned amount of . . . $300,000 shall not be returned to NAPRO’ refers to the balance of the obligations being consumed, not to the actual payment of the obligations which could be anytime in the future depending on the nature and terms of the obligation.” As a result, the court denied NAPRO’s “request for the defendant to pay the retained amount of $300,000 and orders the dismissal of the complaint.”
In re National Promoters and Services Inc., No. 13-00049-ESL (D.P.R. July 2, 2020)